The UAE is to open a clinic next year dedicated to treating gaming addiction, a senior official has confirmed.
The outpatient clinic, to be based on site at the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Abu Dhabi, will help both Emirati and expatriate members of the community grappling with digital demons.
Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director-general of the NRC, said staff are already being trained to meet the needs of those fixated on mobile and video games.
"The NRC is welcoming all patients [who are addicted to any behaviour] to come and seek help from us. Gaming addiction is mainly a behavioural issue and we are building the capacity and training our workforce to deal with any sort of addictive behaviours," Dr Al Ghaferi told state news agency, Wam.
The move comes in the wake of the World Health Organisation (WHO) adding gaming addiction to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) last year.
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WHO defined the gaming disorder as a pattern of behaviour characterised by impaired control over game playing and giving increased priority to gaming over other activities and interests.
The inclusion of a disorder in the ICD list is taken into consideration by countries planning public health strategies, according to WHO.
Video gaming remains a hugely popular pursuit in the Emirates, with many experts raising concerns that a hobby has become an obsession for some players.
Games such as Fortnite have drawn such a large fan base they have even spawned their own international tournaments, with lucrative cash prizes for the best players.
Carolyn Yaffe, a CBT therapist at Camali Clinic, told the National after WHO's decision to classify gaming addiction as a disease that it is a pressing issue in the UAE.
"I do hear more and more parents concerned about this. It's very important for parents not to use these games as babysitters,” she said.
Some of her patients spend between four to six hours playing games.
"Gaming becomes an addiction when it's interfering with your everyday life. If it's affecting your wellbeing and when you can’t stop or cut back, that's an addiction. When you’re not interested in anything else, that is an addiction. When you find that there is never enough time, that is an addiction.”
We have to raise awareness within the community and we have to alert families about this possible problem
Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi
Dr Nick Wakefield, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing, said at the time that research should focus on the cause of gaming disorder rather than the outcome.
"The literature points to gaming being a function of some of the problems like depression and social withdrawal,” he said.
"I see patients playing games for many hours but that would not classify it as addiction. It’s a problem if it is affecting other areas of their lives. The amount of time isn’t necessarily the important factor, it’s the impact and the reasons why they are doing it."
More than 80 per cent of smartphone users in the UAE identifying themselves as 'mobile gamers,’ revealed a study by the gaming analytics firm Newzoo this year.
Despite rising concerns over gaming addiction, the NRC said it has not dealt with any cases so far.
"We did not receive any patients as such. We have to raise awareness within the community and we have to alert families about this possible problem," said Dr Al Ghaferi during a meeting on Public Health Implications of Behavioural Addictions, being held in Abu Dhabi.
The event brings together academics and clinicians from around the world to discuss health conditions, diagnoses and rehabilitation programmes associated with excessive use of the internet and other communication and gaming platforms.
"The participation in the meeting will give us more ideas about tackling this issue," Dr Al Ghaferi said.
The NRC is joining forces with Japanese experts who have conducted a study about gaming addiction in Japan.
"We will work with them and utilise the studies they conducted," said Dr Al Ghaferi.
The NRC has been offering treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse and other behavioural addictions since 2002.
"We always welcome those who need help – both Emiratis and expatriates – to approach us," Dr Al Ghaferi said.